History @ Balliol, Oxford in 2019

Interview format

3 x 20 min interviews, HAT

Interview content

Personal statement and written work; source discussion, summarised the argument in my essay

Best preparation

Mock interviews, wider personal statement reading

Test preparation

Practice papers, spent some time getting myself used to working with completely unknown sources by reading through some sources from A-Level mocks for modules that I wasn't studying myself

Final thoughts

They don't necessarily care about the right answers, just how you deal with new and unfamiliar concepts

Remember this advice isn't official. There is no guarantee it will reflect your experience because university applications can change between years. Check the official Cambridge and Oxford websites for more accurate information on this year's application format and the required tests.

Also, someone else's experience may not reflect your own. Most interviews are more like conversations than tests and like, any conversation, they are quite interactive.

Interview Format

Test taken: History Aptitude Test (HAT)
Number of interviews: 3
Time between interviews: I had two interviews on one day - one mid morning and one about 3ish. My third interview was at a different college the next day.
Length of interviews: About 20 minutes (I think)
Online interview: No

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first and third interviews were based on my personal statement and written work. My second interview was on a source, where we just discussed the content of it and any wider questions raised in it. I got asked to summarise the argument in my essay and speculate on the answers to some wider questions posed by it. Also a wider discussion of some of the topics in my statement, and the different types of sources that could be used for a related enquiry. Everything I was asked was directly based on my subject, no problem sheets or more abstract questions! And not knowing the answer was a bit scary and disheartening before I went in, but i quickly realized that they were not looking for right answers, just your train of thought and after this I found the interviews much more fun. I felt quite nervy when I went in, but as I got used to the tutors I settled in much more and started to enjoy having an interesting conversation about a subject I loved.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

I ran a couple of practise interviews with a teacher at my sixth form (basically, I just asked them to talk to me about some history for a while!). I made sure that I was totally familiar with what I had included in my personal statement and written work - most importantly, I made sure I had something new to say outside of it. For example, I had some new arguments or evidence connected to my submitted essay so that I could build on my discussion and show that I was actively engaging with and thinking about my work. I also read a couple of articles related to some topics discussed in my statement so I had a grounding in more academic thought on my topics.

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

Made plans from practice papers and compared content to mark schemes. Got a teacher to read through answer against mark schemes. It's so easy to get stuck on trying to apply any factual information you may know to the source, but remember it's not historical knowledge they're looking for - they want to see how you work with a source you no absolutely nothing about and what you can come up with (I know its said a lot, but there really is no straight right/wrong answers!) I spent some time getting myself used to working with completely unknown sources by reading through some sources from A-Level mocks for modules that I wasn't studying myself (and that I thought looked interesting) and jotting down some thoughts. It was so valuable for me when I could go into my real test and not get so stuck on the source being a total unknown to me!

What advice would you give to future applicants?

Looking back, I would be much less hooked on getting answers right (and not looking like an idiot!), but on speculating and knowing that they don't care about the right answers, just how I deal with new and unfamiliar concepts. My expectations of interviews being really scary and deep and in-depth were totally untrue - the tutors were all lovely, and wanted me to do well. When I felt uncomfortable or didn't know what to say, they always said something or gave me something to work with. Now I can see that they want you to do well, not to flounder and feel tricked.